Articles
Finding my purpose – My journey towards my true self
Agneta Dieden
Leadership Consultant Sweden
Authentic Leadership I Leadership development I Executive Coaching. Agneta Dieden has an MSc in Industrial and Management Engineering from Linköping Technical  University. She has studied psychology at Stockholm University and holds a diploma as a  Psychosynthesis therapist. She is an ICF certified coach (PCC). Agneta has worked within  marketing and sales at IBM, she has been a partner of Ray & Berdtson, a global executive search  firm and since 2001 she is working with leadership development and executive coaching.

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    Finding my purpose – My journey towards my true self

    In 2011, I was recommended a three-day leadership program, the Self Managing Leadership, run  by Oxford Leadership. I was very reluctant. Looking at the framework for the course, I could see  that part of the process was defining an inner compass with values, purpose, and a vision – working with barriers. With a bit of arrogance, I was thinking that I had done all that, it was part of  my work as a coach. The program immediately broke my hesitation and pulled me in. This was  different from all the other leadership programs I had attended. A solid process that enabled  depth and clarity in three days. Context setting with storytelling invited reflection. When we  finished, I walked up to the trainer, who happened to be Brian Bacon, the founder of Oxford  Leadership, and said that “I have found my purpose, this is what I want to do. I want to deliver  these programs.”  

    I met with other colleagues of Oxford Leadership and found something new. I found diversity, people from different countries with different backgrounds and personalities whose self awareness was bigger than their ego. People who were not driven by money but by love for what  they can give and contribute to in leadership and business. I put my own business on a pause  button and started to deliver and design programs for Oxford Leadership. For the first time in my  professional life, I felt belonging. I had found my tribe.  

    Almost nine years have passed since then. I have focused all my energy on Oxford Leadership,  building business, designing and delivering programs as a facilitator and coach. It has been quite a  ride. I have been mentored by my wholehearted colleagues. We give each other constant  feedback and – in addition to the evaluations we get from the groups – it can be quite tough. If we  don ́t grow and evolve, we cannot bring that quality to our groups. We give of our whole selves  and if we are not authentic, people will sense it. If I step into the overachiever and over-prepare, I  lose my heart and soul. I need to dare to be vulnerable and true and at the same time have focus.  What works for me is to have a clear intention, presence and then let go. Every time is different  and that is the beauty of the programs we deliver at Oxford Leadership. It is blissful to be a  catalyst for people connecting to their purpose and to do what I am passionate about. It is the  grace I called for during a vision quest to Death Valley in 2008.  

    One thing I have learned through my purpose journey is the impact of setting an intention. I set  my daily intention early in the morning and it affects the outcome of the day. I set my intention  before I step into a meeting and it affects the outcome. The intention is about what quality I want  to bring and how things are going to work out. When I set the intention of “effortlessly,” meaning  no struggle, and open up to the possibility of everything working out seamlessly, it somehow does.  I have not stopped being surprised by the magic and simplicity that setting intention brings to life.  

    Starting the journey towards my true self  

    A dragonfly lands on my chest. I see its trembling wings with the colors that the light brings  forward. What does it want to say to me? That life is fragile, and we shall take good care of it.  Each of us brings meaning to life. You do not need to be big and strong to start a journey. I am  sitting in the April afternoon sun gathering light after the long, dark Swedish winter. Yes, I have  done an inner journey, many journeys. It has been strenuous, at times painful but enormously enriching. I will share some of my experiences from an open and personal point of view, starting at  the age of 16 until now, my late 50s. Everyone ́s journey is different, but, in essence, we all search  for meaning, and we all have a history that has shaped us. We bring meaning to life and it is done  by being true to ourselves, using our gifts and experiences in a meaningful way. Most of us grow  up and try to fit in and then at some point some of us, including myself, start to reflect upon: Who  am I really? and the journey starts towards something that feels truer.  

    Swedish economist and former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold once said:  “The longest journey is the journey inwards.” Sometimes I have wondered, “Does it never end?”  The answer is no. It is eternal I take myself to new levels of awareness, to something which is more  in alignment with my inner core. There is no one recipe for this; it is a quest that continues through  life. It is like peeling the petals of an onion and discovering a new layer underneath. Once you  have started peeling, you cannot put the coat back. Instead, you peel the next layer, and then the  next, and you see more and understand more. That does not always make life easier. Being truer  to myself involves making conscious choices, and those choices can bring me outside my comfort  zone. The reward is happiness coming from a greater sense of belonging and meaning.  

    An existential crisis: “Who am I in all this?”  

    I am in the dining room of my childhood home working on embroidery homework from school.  Embroidery requires focused attention of my 16-year- old mind which easily drifts away in all kinds  of thoughts. My parents have guests coming over and while passing the dining room they greet  me. One of them looks me in the eyes and says: “So, you are 16 now… I remember, not always easy  to be that age.” His eyes are kind and a bit sad. I am instantly connected to the sadness inside me.  Yes, I find life challenging, trying to understand my role in the world. “What was life about? Who  am I in all this? Why do I have this feeling of not belonging?”  

    I grew up in a middle-class family. Both my parents were hard-working people, careful about how  they spent their money in order to make a better living as they moved up the social ladder with  my father ́s career. The internalized message I have from my father is: “Life is hard work.” And  from my mother: “It is important to fit into a social context,” and “Good enough is exceeding  expectations.” These messages contributed to the struggles and the successes I have had in my  life. It took some time before I became aware of how living these beliefs took me away from love  and joy. Life became hard work and doing the right thing was something seen from the outside. It  took therapy, meditation, travels, a deep dive into different spiritual practices, and inspirational,  caring colleagues in order to break the patterns created from these beliefs.  

    I had my first existential crises as a 16-year-old. An existential crisis can be a window of  opportunity. Either we open the window and leave some habits behind in order for something new  to enter, or we close it until the next crisis comes. I chose to open it a bit. I needed to find  something to address the confusion inside. Watching the world from the eyes of a 16-year-old, I  felt as if I was detached from the feeling of belonging in a group – which I assumed everyone else  was experiencing. What came my way was TM, Transcendental Meditation which uses a silent  mantra as a meditation technique. I was starting to dip my toe into the spiritual realm where being  present with the unknown and the silence on the inside brought me calmness and trust. Life is  beautiful the way it is. It might not be the way I want it to be, and I might not understand in the  moment why certain things happen, but when I later in life connect the dots, it will all come out  fine. Imperfection creates happiness. Not perfection. The only thing that is perfect in life is the  beauty of nature. Finding peace on the inside through the chattering mind helped me to see this. It  is not that the chatter stopped, I don ́t think it ever will, but by noticing it, I became better and  better at coming back to what really mattered. It helped me find my inner center. Today when I  meditate, I also feel love and enormous gratitude for what life brings. This feeling brings light into  my day.  

    Loneliness: “Where do I belong?” 

    I now understand the difference between belonging and fitting in. What I was trying to do was to  accommodate to norms, to push myself into a form that was not truly mine. I achieved good  grades at school, went to UCSC (University of California Santa Cruz) for a year, continued and  took my Master in Science, MSc, in Sweden and started to work in sales as an Account Manager at  IBM. I achieved my sales quotas and was one of those who made it to the 100% club and could  walk around with a 100% needle and join rewarding conventions abroad. On the outside, it looked  good, but still, I had this insecure and fake feeling. Working at IBM at the age of 26, I got the  feedback from a colleague that he perceived me as secure, confident and successful, but on the  inside, I felt like I was not good enough, like a fraud not being as good as they thought.  

    I could not pinpoint exactly what this was about since I did meet expectations. Real belonging  happens when we are in touch with our authentic selves. Somehow, I had a taste of the  authenticity, the real me, and I knew there was something more than the over-achieving person I  had become. But my approach to getting there was by pushing myself harder instead of letting  go of my own inner critic who always would push me more. Letting go is trusting that good  enough will do and help will come if needed. It is paradoxical how the effect of letting go can bring  success rather than trying to control life. However, I did not yet get that. Letting go also is leaving  space for miracles and the unexpected in life.  

    Become who you are  

    At the age of 38, I had two sons, aged 7 and 4. I had left IBM after nine years. In my last position at  IBM, I was part of the management team of IBM Financial Services where we focused on financing  IBM solutions, but I had felt a pull towards the area of human resources. During my maternity  leave, I started to study psychology at the University of Stockholm, and that opened up  possibilities for a career change. I was now working for an international executive search firm as  one of the few female partners globally. My husband and I were juggling double careers and the  wish to be emotionally present with our kids as much as possible. We had a high school girl picking  them up from daycare. My golden moment of the day was to come home in time to read them a  good-night story, lying in our big bed with a child on each side. I still miss those moments of bliss  when everything around me stopped and I was embraced by their love and curiosity.  

    Studying psychology was interesting, but not what I was searching for. I wanted something  deeper, something that brought me closer to understand myself from the inside. With kids and  husband and a demanding job, my life became like a project, organized in detail. I lost touch with myself.  

    Life was pulling me towards my second existential crisis when I got a book in my hand, “Become  Who You Are,” by Piero Ferucci. Piero ́s teachings stem from psychosynthesis. He was a student of  Roberto Assagioli, who developed psychosynthesis, a discipline known as psychology with a soul. I  felt it was something special. I had an urge to do something that broke my habitual patterns. I  decided right then to study psychosynthesis. I did not even need to read the book.  

    It happened to be a four-year therapist training, run over weekends, so I could still do my job as  an executive search consultant. My main reason to join the training was to learn more about  myself. Five years later, after being in therapy with three different therapists, trying to outsmart  the first one, finding the second one too soft, and sort of giving up on the third one, I had a bit  better self- awareness, but I still felt as if there was something blocking me. I had realized: “I am  not my mind, I am not my feelings, I am not my body, I am so much more.”  

    A step into the unknown: “What is the more?”  

    This period in my life was disruptive. The psychosynthesis training and the therapy had started a  process in myself. Being a person who throws myself into work wholeheartedly, with passion and  commitment I was not recognizing myself. I was not happy and had lost my energy. One day I found myself crying. It was a burnout reaction, the doctor called it stress-related depression. I saw  it as a kind of spiritual break down. I was not aligned with my true self, and my entire body was  revolting against me. The cost of conforming and sticking to the fact that I had a wonderful life  with good pay, a great husband and lovely kids, did not work any longer. I had to start from a  clean plate.  

    After six years of enjoying my work, it feels heavier and heavier to walk in through the door of the  firm. Entering the office, I meet one of my partner colleagues. He looks at me and asks: “How are  you, Agneta?” And I give my usual answer with a bit of a strained smile: “Good, thanks.” He looks at  me again and asks: “How are you really?”  

    That question takes me off guard and I hear myself answer: “You know what? I think I am going to  quit!” It is not the answer he expects to get. We walk into my office and seat ourselves in my  comfortable armchairs. I feel totally convinced. “I am going to quit.”  

    I could feel how energy bubbled up on the inside. It happened to be my birthday, and I was leaving  life as a search consultant behind and stepping into the unknown.  

    When you stand up for your truth, you might get a bloody nose. For most people, it is crazy to quit  a good job without knowing anything about the next step. People questioned my choice. There is  something about going against the mainstream that creates reactions. It did not take courage to  decide to leave my job, but afterward, I can see that it was an act of courage. Courage comes  from the French word Coeur – heart. I was following my heart. I did not know how I was going to  earn my living, but I believed in myself. I had always managed through dedicated work,  persistence, and discipline. These qualities were my allies.  

    I had taken myself from the insecure overachiever at IBM, through studies of psychology and  therapy where I had peeled off some layers of patterns that did not serve me. I was ready for a  new chapter, a chapter that would bring me closer to my purpose. It had been a lot to deal with:  unworthiness, fear of failure and feelings of not belonging. I had increased my self-awareness, but  there was still more to do on self-love and I felt a pull to continue to explore within contexts that  were out of the ordinary.  

    When we speak about purpose at Oxford Leadership, which is the organization I am dedicated to  now, we use the model of the harmonic triangle where the three corners are Self, Others, and  Truth. The explanation is that when we connect to our “truth,” our purpose, we want to give from  that place, and when we give unconditionally to others, we will somehow receive to self, too. I did  receive. Somehow, synchronicities, meaningful coincidences, came my way.  

    I am back at the Psychosynthesis Academy in Stockholm, where I did my psychosynthesis training.  I am there for a seminar. Diana Whitmore, one of the founders of the Psychosynthesis Trust in  London is visiting Stockholm. She takes us into a visualization, “Remember the time you decided to  become a therapist….” I hear her words and my whole inside reacts. I never decided to become a  therapist. My purpose is something else. I walk up to Diana afterward and tell her this. “I am too  results-oriented.” She looks at me and smiles. “Maybe coaching? My husband is John Whitmore; he  has introduced the GROW model in coaching and has a training in two weeks.”  

    The gift of the synchronicity showed up. Two weeks later, I am sitting in another circle at a college  outside London. Someone pulled out of the coaching training and I get the seat. Coaching  assignments started to present themselves. Previous search clients called, and I found myself  coaching people in a friend’s paint studio. I had listened to my inner voice telling me I should move  on, and I was on a new path.  

    Searching for my true self 

    At age 44 I started to build my own coaching business, which was a challenge in itself. Coaching  was not yet mainstream, and I had to justify and explain when initiating sales calls. It was a  struggle. I found an office to share with some other people and slowly business started to build.  Since I had been a partner of the search firm, I had some money so I could survive by making a lot  less than I ever had made. I was on a deeper quest for purpose and connection both inside and  outside myself and tried different things in parallel to my job. My quest took me to India, Peru, and  Death Valley.  

    India & Osho  

    I had friends who went to the Osho center in Pune, India and came back feeling grateful and happy. I decided to try it out over a three-week Christmas break and signed up for an artistic  painting class. Our teacher sparkled, and when she felt we became too addicted to form, she walked by and splashed some color on our painting. Always smiling and saying things like, “Wow,  what is emerging now?” It was amazing. Letting go of control. I can see even more today how I  can benefit from practicing this attitude in general in many situations. Being in the moment, being  curious about how human beings, like a piece of precious art, can unfold. The Osho guru thing,  however, was not for me. I learned that I had to be gentle to myself and break the rules if they go  against my inner well-being. That is self- love. I did not follow the rituals of the Osho center. I did  my painting and went my own way. It was a good lesson for me who has a tendency to conform  too much in order to secure belonging.  

    Peru & the Shamans  

    I am hiking a five-day trail to the Choquequirao Ruins in the Sacred Valley of the Incas near Cusco  at 3000 meters above the sea level. We are a group of fifteen people walking with three wisdom  keepers, shamans. One step at a time. One breath at a time. Air is thin and crisp, and I am looking  with awe at the donkeys and native people who easily make their way up the mountain. Every  morning our helpers come to our tent with hot tea from the coca plant, to give us an energy boost  and to help prevent altitude sickness. When I drink my tea, my breath creates smoke in the cold  air. During the day it gets warmer. It is beautiful. Stunning with the deep canyons and the snow on  the peaks. The scenery helps to pull me forward, to stop and see the beauty as it is, to put sore  feet into a stream and feel how it cleans and brings clarity. I get even more convinced; nature  gives us our answers.  

    The next step on my search for a deeper connection from the inside out became an energy healing training in the tradition of the native Indians in Peru. By coincidence, I walked into a lecture  in Stockholm with Alberto Villoldo from the Four Winds, this was in June 2005. There and then I  decided to sign up for a week of training in England. It happened to be a six-week shamanic  training run over a year. I was not aware of this but felt I was onto something important that could  take me further than the therapy. I had the same feeling as when I joined the psychosynthesis  training, I just had to do it. I needed to continue to clear out patterns that prevented me from  happiness with an approach that was beyond my mind, surrendering to a deeper intuitive  knowing.  

    Death Valley Vision quest  

    Nature continued to call me, and in 2008 I decided to go for a nine-day vision quest in Death  Valley led by a man named Sparrow Heart. Vision quests are part of the Native American  traditions and the quest is vision time spent in nature in solitude. Part of my vision is bringing  leaders into nature for a deeper connection to themselves and all that is. Everything is connected.  With more collective wisdom we will get a better world. In order to bring vision quest elements into  the corporate world, I knew I had to do the real thing myself. I needed to go first and learn from  that experience. In March 2008 we are a group of eight people who meet up with Sparrow Heart in the desert of  Death Valley outside Las Vegas. We are starting a three-day pre- quest together where we  prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally.  

    The first night, I am lying in my tent listening to the sound of the wind and the blowing sand. The  canvas is fluttering, making me afraid of it breaking apart. I turn on my flashlight and scribble my  intentions in my notebook. On one page I write with big letters “GRACE – less struggle.”  Underneath I write, “To step into my female power and wisdom becoming who I already am at the  deepest level of my being, staying in the awareness of my essential nature.” Maybe a bit  pretentious but this vision resonates with me.  

    Three days later, all eight of us step over a line of stones, a threshold ritual, pronouncing our  intention and what we want to leave behind. Through the hike, we find our individual power places  far away from each other in the wilderness. I am excited, determined and a bit afraid of the  unknown. What if I meet a mountain lion? A rattlesnake? or even worse, inner shadows I don ́t  want to deal with.  

    I am alone in a canyon in Death Valley listening to the silence with no other gear but my sleeping  bag and a too-small sleeping pad. It is the fourth and last night of my solo vision quest. The body  is weak from fasting, drinking only water. I am sitting in a circle of stones that the native American Indians call a “purpose circle.” I have put out stones representing all my relations that can possibly  support me in connecting to my purpose, my allies. I am going to stay here all night. Awake. The  sun is setting over the sand dunes and coloring the sky red. In a few minutes, it will be pitch dark. I  wonder how I am going to manage to stay awake. At this moment I see a scorpion crawl under  one of the stones one meter away from me. I feel how fear gets a grip on me. I breathe and  imagine the support coming from the stones. I am not going to give up my intention. If I act from  fear, I will call it in. All is connected. My purpose is related to love and wisdom. Agneta be it. Be  your purpose. I breathe from my heart and choose to trust. The darkness of the night settles.  

    We are all Earth keepers. We all have a responsibility, and we all have a purpose that can serve  the greater good by each one of us adding value in our own context. The vision quest confirmed  my path and helped me to connect to my inner wisdom, accepting it as a gift that I can bring  forward. I also started to make friends with loneliness. At our innermost center, we are both alone  and whole. A few years later I talked to a Buddhist monk who put words to my thoughts about  loneliness and belonging when he said:  

    “The way out of loneliness is to love yourself deeply. Let go of the concept that there is something  out there. Once you love yourself deeply, you will be happy and also love others more deeply”.  

    There are two key elements from these experiences that I hold on to as I move forward in life: to  be gentle with myself by practicing loving myself deeply and to connect to nature. When I feel lost,  nature is always there for me and can help me to connect to my true self. I can ask for help while  walking in the woods. I give myself space and wait for the answer, connecting to the feeling of  gratitude and love. Help will come but we need to ask for it.  

    My purpose  

    My purpose is to spread light and love. To be a catalyst for people connecting to their inner  wisdom and freedom which is ever-present. To inspire the steady flow of life force that flows from  the depth of our souls. To open doors where people can see more dimensions and thus inspire  transformation enabling acts from love and compassion instead of from fear. 

    I have not given up when something has not felt true to me. I have tried new things and learned  what works and what doesn ́t work. It has been important to be open to new experiences and not  to get stuck in anything as it is the one way or the one truth. Different experiences have given me  different perspectives, I have always learned something. Even if some things have not appealed to  me, there has been a gem also in these experiences. I know I don ́t need to search for a guru. I  need otherwise people around me who can inspire me. I feel in my body when something is not  working for me, even if my rational mind tells me something different, and I have learned to listen  to these signals.  

    I still find myself in stressful situations where I lose my center, but I have become quicker at  regaining my inner alignment. It is practice and practice. Meditation and mindfulness make a  difference. Our struggles and failures are gifts. They can bring us closer to the love of ourselves  and others since they remind us that we are human. Difficulties in life can help us to understand  that love is more than something that comes from the outside. Love is who we are. Our mission in  life is to connect to that love and from that place, we can spread our wings and walk in purpose.  We feel free when we are in touch with what we want to give and serve the world. It is not so much  about doing. It is being. When I am authentic, others become authentic. When I am in my power, I  empower others to be in their power. I cannot explain it better than when I connect to my purpose  it is a form of being. I feel the energy of contribution and from there it is natural to serve, bringing  the talents that are truly mine to the greater good of this world.  

    What is the next step? I am in touch with my purpose, but it is not the end destination for my  expression. My purpose continues to evolve as I get to the next level of awareness and the next.  Awareness is about knowing myself, listening to myself and making decisions that enable me to  be true to myself. I might not be doing the same thing in five years. It can be in a different context,  but the essence of my purpose will be the same.